Communication always tops the list as the biggest challenge that remote teams experience. Working asynchronously and across time zones often results in workers not getting clarity on their questions quickly enough. Junior employees especially struggle since they often have the highest volume of questions as they onboard, but also feel the least comfortable reaching out for help.
In this article, I will explain how implementing virtual office hours for your team can help mitigate issues related to communication by providing a structured outlet for workers to ask any questions they have.
Virtual office hours are dedicated times when you are available to your team for conversation, work-related or otherwise. These dedicated times create a structured environment for users to bond and ask questions, distributing knowledge and building closeness.
Most companies onboard junior engineers at physical offices in roughly the same way:
- Assign them a mentor
- Have them work closely with that mentor for the first few weeks, asking any questions that arise about company logistics, engineering best practices, and their development environment
- Wrap up onboarding after a few weeks and switch to weekly check-ins
Due to geography and time zones, remote mentors can’t answer questions with the same level of availability and responsiveness as organizations with colocated teams.
By hosting virtual office hours, remote teams can create structured time for junior engineers to answer any burning questions they have about engineering processes or the product roadmap. As a result, engineers ramp faster and gain a deeper base of knowledge.
Most employees work closely with only 1 or 2 other people and knowledge is often siloed within their own project management systems. Virtual office hours are great for distributing this knowledge and work especially well for remote teams.
In physical offices, this information sharing often happens at common office choke points, such as cafeterias, coffee machines, and water coolers. But, organic events like these rarely happen in remote teams. Many remote organizations often try to recreate these interactions by scheduling company events to “get to know each other”, but unsurprisingly these rarely provide a sense of sustained community. Asking a teammate, who you don’t know very well, to grab lunch together is very different from your boss organizing a lunch event for everyone at the company. Both events are fun, but during the latter event, everyone is far less likely to authentically share information that they've learned.
By providing scheduled office hours to your teammates and broader organization, you can develop far more organic conversations. Knowledge that was previously siloed in a team’s project management system is often discovered naturally. Moreover, your remote teammates, who you do not regularly work with, can feel more comfortable diving into conversations to chat about the feasibility of moonshot feature ideas that could 10X user retention. These are the types of conversations that founders and managers at remote companies should want to facilitate.
From our interviews with over 50 teams, we found that most remote workers average less than 1 impromptu audio/video conversation with their teammates per week. This is especially shocking, given that impromptu conversations happen virtually every hour in physical offices.
Virtual office hours provide a more transparent space for remote workers to develop bonds with teammates. Since these times are unrelated to performance, you can create a more comfortable environment for teammates to bond and more freely ask questions. This inevitably leads to higher employee happiness and productivity.
Also, by providing a transparent environment where people can easily participate in group conversations, teammates can feel as though they have more social capital to get to know anyone on a team better if they so choose. That is a psychologically powerful effect for remote team members.
Get started hosting virtual office hours
Teams use Pragli everyday to host their virtual office hours. Get started with our detailed guide to hosting office hours in Pragli.